Maryland Puts Up United Front in 83-73 Win over Virginia Tech

Maryland forward Landon Milbourne rises over Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen for two of his game-high 23 points.
Maryland forward Landon Milbourne rises over Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen for two of his game-high 23 points. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009

With just more than seven minutes remaining, Sean Mosley and the Maryland basketball team had the kind of opportunity that proved rare yesterday against Virginia Tech: out in the open, racing toward the basket, outnumbering the opposition.

Mosley knew it was a chance to draw even more emotion out of the Comcast Center fans who wore their support of their team -- and their coach -- on their sleeves, literally in many cases. He whipped the ball to Dino Gregory, who was standing near the basket, but rather than flush an emphatic dunk through the rim, Gregory dribbled the ball back out to the top of the key.

It was a sign of patience emblematic of a Maryland basketball team that asserted control in every way possible yesterday. As a result, the Terrapins (16-8, 5-5 ACC) turned their steady second-half lead into an 83-73 victory.

Maryland Coach Gary Williams acknowledged the win over the Hokies was his team's most complete game of the season. The Terrapins shot 48.1 percent, reached a 31-31 rebounding draw against a taller Virginia Tech front court and produced crucial stops whenever it appeared that the Hokies (16-8, 6-4) were primed to make a run.

"I think that's probably as well as we've played with a lead all year," Williams said. "That was important. We didn't make many mistakes when we got up seven, eight, trying to stretch it there a little bit."

Twenty-two of Maryland's 26 free throw attempts came in the final eight minutes, after Virginia Tech closed what was an 11-point lead to six. The Terrapins made 21 of 22 (and 20 in a row at one point) during that span and shot 92.3 percent overall from the foul line.

But Williams said he expected such a performance from his players from the free throw line, noting they've done well in those situations before.

The implication, then, was that the key to Maryland's ability to stave off the Hokies in the second half lay somewhere else. The Terrapins team that blew late leads at Miami on Jan. 14 and against Boston College on Jan. 27 would have folded under the pressure of a charging Virginia Tech squad.

But the squad that showed up yesterday at Comcast Center was of an improved makeup, or at least seemed that way. When asked what differences he noticed in his team while it protected its lead this time around, Williams demurred.

"No, it's been there in games past; you're wrong," he said. "It's just that we really did a great job tonight on both ends of the court, and we have a great team, and I really enjoy coaching them. And that's why I'm here: to coach my team."

Williams felt drained by the criticism directed his way and took measures to reinforce the control he wields over the program he has led for 20 years. The Maryland locker room typically is open to reporters after games, but yesterday it was closed. Select players were made available for interviews.

One of those players, sophomore guard Adrian Bowie, said the team is aware of the increased pressure Williams has faced.

"We hear about it all the time as well," said Bowie, who finished with eight points and four assists. "So we think about it, and we just want to come in here and represent for Coach."

The Comcast Center crowd shared Bowie's sentiment. T-shirts and buttons proclaiming support for Williams were passed out before the game. Williams's first name was chanted throughout the game, at no time more loudly than when the final horn sounded.

"It's great to have somebody with me, to tell you the truth," Williams said before thanking the audience during his postgame radio interview.

Should the Terrapins continue to play as they did yesterday -- with defensive focus and offensive efficiency from start to finish -- support for Williams's team likely will continue to swell.

Landon Milbourne led all scorers with 23 points, a resurgence of sorts for the junior forward who had been mired in an offensive rut in recent games.

Greivis Vasquez shot 7 for 13 from the field, a step forward for the junior guard who had struggled with his accuracy for much of the ACC season.

While those developments were encouraging for the Terrapins, they were not the crucial differences that propelled Maryland to victory. Mosley, who tallied nine points and three steals, finally revealed the answer.

"We was always aggressive," Mosley said. "From the defensive end, we was aggressive from the first half to the second half. We didn't let up at all and that's the thing about it. It's fun playing defense. You know, we get out to run, get a couple dunks, get the crowd into the game, get the momentum on our side and that's what we did today."

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